- The Black Legend of Prince Rupert's Dog: Witchcraft and Propaganda during the English Civil War
"Who is Prince Rupert?" asks an anonymous 1643 writer in The New Interpreter: answering that, thanks to the presence of his mysterious companion, he is "a witch, an incubus, and a Devill" (114). So went much of the flurry of allegations surrounding Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Charles I's nephew and a prominent figure in the English Civil War, and Boy, his "necromantic dogge." Early modern historian Mark Stoyle has gathered pamphlets, ballads, satires, news items, memoirs, dialogues, letters, images, and mock elegies to piece together the truth behind the legend of the famous dog that accompanied his prince into battle, dying at Marston Moor in 1644.
Boy was probably a white standard poodle, a then-exotic breed all but unknown in 1640s England except among aristocrats who collected them as elegant yet strangely sinister curiosities. Hack writers on both Parliamentarian and Royalist sides enlisted Boy as a political symbol, and the poodle became the antihero of poem and ballad. When enemies accused Rupert of being a bulletproof witch, Boy became his shape-shifting familiar. Dogs were the most common animals to be suspected as imps, but the book also features the devilish attributes of monkeys, rabbits, ferrets, and cats; Stoyle engagingly tracks how Boy's public reception illuminates larger changing patterns of witch belief at the start of the Civil War. [End Page 159]
Prince Rupert was born just before political disaster, and he and his mother were exiled in the Netherlands after the loss of the throne and the death of his father. The childhood nickname "Rupert le Diable" may have led to the devilish accusations in adulthood, when enemies began referring to him as Robin the Devil, which was also a reference to his handsome but, to many, disarmingly swarthy appearance. Trained in the art of war to recover what the family had lost, he was imprisoned in Austria's Linz Castle in early 1639. It is during this period that he probably received Boy as a gift from Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel. Boy then probably sailed from Holland to England with Rupert in 1642. Writers began to link Rupert with the supernatural, and to publish allegations that his troops killed women and children. By the time Rupert's forces were at London's gates, the charges of witchcraft and sorcery grew loudest: he was said to disguise himself "first as a gentleman, then as an apple-seller; then as a cabbage-seller and finally as a woman in order to spy on the Roundhead forces" (39).
Much of the Boy memorabilia is quite entertaining. For example, Royalist John Cleveland published a poem in 1642, "To Prince Rupert," that paved Boy's way to national attention. He claimed in jest that Rupert had trained Boy to sit up at the name of Charles I, and to cock his leg at the mention of the Parliamentarian leader, John Pym. He also asserted that MPs of the House of Commons summoned the dog before them and accused him of barking "against the sense of th'House," while wagging his tail in sympathy with the High Church. Others would later charge that Boy ate human flesh, or that he laughed like a man after successfully pulling off a nefarious spell. Boy was also said to be a spy and a magician, with some commenters suggesting that when he turned in circles before lying down to sleep, he traced a pentagram on the ground.
At times it may seem as though this whole study has been built upon a rather modest concept, but Boy's charisma and the lively story of creative political propaganda carry the work even when it threatens to lapse into catalog. Moreover, the lure of historic animals for those of us who care about them can seem irresistible, but therein also lies a bit of a trap. In Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies...